Monday, May 25, 2009

Asia, EU Talks Focus on N Korea Nuclear Test, Burma

The Irrawaddy News

HANOI — North Korea's announcement of a second nuclear test and Burma's trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi seized the attention of foreign ministers from Asia and Europe meeting Monday in Hanoi.

The government ministers and other high-ranking officials said the nuclear test, as well as North Korea's test of a ground-to-air missile, posed a threat to regional and global security.

Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win is followed by journalists as he leaves an EU "Troika" meeting held on the fringe of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) Foreign Ministers' meeting in Hanoi on May 25. (Photo: Reuters)

"The Japanese government cannot condone another nuclear test by North Korea," said Kazuo Kodama, a spokesman for Japan's foreign ministry. "The test is a flagrant violation of existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, and the government of Japan strongly protests."

Kodama spoke shortly before the start of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Aseam), which has drawn representatives of 45 nations—including at least 30 foreign ministers from the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, and South Korea.

The ministers were slated to seek solutions to the economic slowdown and ways to enhance economic cooperation. Also on the agenda were climate change and communicable diseases such as swine flu.

But events were likely to overtake the agenda.

North Korea announced Monday that it successfully carried out a second underground nuclear test, following one in 2006, a move that will deepen international concern over the reclusive regime's weapons programs.

It came less than two months after Pyongyang launched a rocket widely believed to be a test of its long-range missile technology.

Ministers in Hanoi are also expected to broach the controversy over Burma's treatment of Suu Kyi, whose trial in Rangoon resumed Monday.

The ruling military junta has accused her of violating the conditions of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home without official permission. She faces up to five years in prison.

Critics have accused the junta of seeking to use the incident as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi in detention through elections scheduled for next year, the culmination of the junta's "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

In Brussels last week, EU foreign ministers discussed increasing sanctions against Burma's junta to pressure it to restore democracy in the Southeast Asian country, but failed to agree on new measures. Instead they signaled they would urge countries with close ties to Burma such as China, India and Thailand to exert influence over it to change its ways.

European and Asian governments have rarely seen eye-to-eye on how to deal with Burma's junta, which refused to accept a 1990 election victory by Suu Kyi's party.

"We are deeply disturbed by the arrest and trial of Aung San Suu Kyi," said Bill Rammel, Britain's minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs. "I think it indicates that the Burmese regime is looking for any pretext to further her detention."

Rammel made his comments to reporters Monday morning, shortly before the Asem was scheduled to formally open.

"We are calling very firmly for Aung San Suu Kyi's release, and indeed the release of all political prisoners."

Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win is due to attend the Hanoi meeting and is scheduled to hold talks with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Asean members generally refrain from criticizing each other's domestic policies, but last week Asean issued a statement expressing concern about Suu Kyi's trial.

Suu Kyi's current term of house arrest was to have ended May 27. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years.

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